Brain imaging research has provided evidence that males and females experience depression differently.
A new study has shown that depression has different effects on the brain activity of male and female adolescents in certain brain regions. The findings suggest that girls and boys may experience depression differently and that targeted, gender-specific treatments might be beneficial for adolescents.
Adolescent females are twice as likely to have depression than males. Possible reasons for this include more negative thinking styles, body image issues, hormonal fluctuations and genetic factors. Females are also more likely to experience several episodes of the illness, whereas males are susceptible to persistent depression, and serious consequences such as substance abuse and suicide.
These differences inspired researchers at the University of Cambridge to investigate gender differences in depression using brain imaging techniques.
The researchers recruited 82 female and 24 male patients with depression, and 24 female and 10 male healthy volunteers, all aged between 11 and 18 years. Participants were shown happy, sad or neutral words in a specific order and had their brains scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a scan used produce detailed pictures of the inside of the body.
Researchers noticed that some combinations of words affected brain activity differently in boys and girls within certain brain regions.
This was the first study of its kind to provide evidence from brain scans that depression might affect the brain differently between boys and girls early in adolescence. Results were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry and have clear implications for future approaches to managing depression in this age group.
The researchers said: “Sex-specific treatment and prevention strategies for depression should be considered early in adolescence. Hopefully, these early interventions could alter the disease trajectory before things get worse.”
Because depression is more common in girls, the researchers were not able to recruit as many boys in this study, and future investigations should aim to compare similar numbers of males and females.
Although the brain regions highlighted in the study have been linked to depression before, further work is needed to understand why they are affected differently in boys, and if this is related to how males experience and handle depression.
Future research should also investigate gender differences in depression from adolescence through to adulthood.
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